Seven affordable, under-the-radar beach destinations

19 01 2009

Fernando de Noronha

Even in rough economic times, it’s important to take a break from the “real world” and treat yourself to some relaxation. At this time of year, it’s preferable to do so on a warm beach. You just have to look a little harder and a little off the beaten path to find affordable destinations. Luckily, I’ve started the research for you and found seven great, lesser-known beach destinations in the Caribbean and Atlantic that also go easy on your wallet.

Los Roques, Venezuela

There may be no better place in the Caribbean to live out your castaway fantasies than Los Roques, an archipelago of 42 sandy islands and about 300 mangrove islets and rocks located 80 miles off the coast of Caracas, Venezuela. Protected as a national park since 1972, the vast majority of Los Roques islands are uninhabited. Those that are inhibited have limited development—there are no cruise ports, and posadas (hotels) may have no more than 15 rooms.

The reefs surrounding the islands boast some of the best biodiversity in the Caribbean, including more than 60 species of coral and 280 species of fish. Above water, the islands give shelter to 92 bird species (such as red footed boobies and pink flamingos) and also host nesting sea turtles. Los Roques’ reliable tradewinds also make it a good spot for sailing, windsurfing, and kiteboarding. As for deserted-island dreams, many posadas can arrange for a day trip or picnic lunch to one of Los Roques’ uninhabited islands.

There are a number of affordable posadas on the islands, including the six-room Posada Movida. Bed and breakfast rates start at $75 per person per night, but it’s a better value to book the all inclusive rate of $120 per person, which covers all meals, wine at dinner, and island boat tour.

Tobago

Unlike its metropolitan and party-hardy big brother Trinidad, little Tobago is content to be a laid-back and natural Caribbean beauty. With the western hemisphere’s oldest protected rainforest, marine parks, and secluded white sand beaches, Tobago has been recognized by World Travel Awards as the World’s Leading Green Destination, a status it was given in 2007. What’s more, whether you come here for a quiet beach honeymoon or an active adventure vacation, you can generally do it pretty cheaply.

Whatever your style, it’s worthwhile to experience both Tobago’s beaches and its wild interior. Tobago was purportedly the inspiration for “Robinson Crusoe,” and even though the deserted beaches described in the novel were based on observations made almost 300 years ago, you can still find such beaches on the island today. Try going to Pirate’s Bay, which was used in the 1954 film version of the novel. You should also plan on a snorkeling trip (25$) to Buccoo Reef, where you can swim with tropical fish in crystal-clear waist-deep water.

To see the rainforest and its many colorful bird species, stay in an eco-lodge or go on a day tour with a local guide. The Cuffie River Nature Retreat, an eco-lodge located on the edge of the rainforest, offers a variety of nature tours including birding walks and visits to secluded waterfalls and natural pools. All inclusive rates for two people start at $185 per night, which includes all meals and a nature walk. If you’d prefer to stay near the beach, try the intimate Hummingbird Hotel, where room-only rates start at $50 a night.

Roatan, Honduras

Roatan, a minnow-shaped island within Honduras’ Bay Islands, attracts divers who come to experience the world’s second-largest barrier reef and those looking for an affordable, laid-back beach vacation in the Caribbean. The island is one of Central America’s once-hidden-now-on-the-rise beach destinations, but thankfully it still lacks big chain resorts and some of the other trappings of mass tourism.

Most Roatan tourists come for the diving and snorkeling, which is among the best in the Caribbean. Besides the coral reefs, you can explore shipwrecks and go on dives specifically to swim with sharks and dolphins. You can also visit the Roatan Tropical Butterfly Garden ($7), go horse-back riding ($35) on the beach, shop at local art galleries, or just relax at one of several open-air seafood restaurants and bars.

The top-rated (according to Trip Advisor, our sister site), hotel on the island, West Bay Lodge, charges a mere $80 a night (based on a four-night stay) for private bungalows with kitchens. The rate includes daily breakfast, a welcome drink, and airport transfers for stays of four nights or longer.

Isla Bastimentos, Panama

Looking for the next Costa Rica? Just head down the coast a few miles to Panama and the Isla Bastimentos, part of the Bocas del Toro archipelago in the Caribbean Sea, a 20-square-mile island that’s a microcosm of some of Panama’s top tourism offerings. Here you’ll find virgin rainforests home to sloths and monkeys, offshore coral gardens and mangrove islands perfect for snorkeling, and stunning beaches pounded by Hawaii-sized waves.

The island’s Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos ($10 for admission), which encompasses rainforest, beaches, and coral reefs, is an essential stop for all visitors. Most people come to snorkel the coral gardens and Cayos Zapatillas, two little shoe-shaped islets off the main island. On the land, guides can take you on hikes through the forest to see animals like white-faced capuchin monkeys and poison dart frogs. For the best beaches, go to the northern part of the island. Big waves and strong currents make the beaches unfriendly to swimmers, but the sight of the waves and the lack of bathers makes for postcard-worthy strolls.

To really get away from it all, stay at the Al Natural Resort, a series of six open air bungalows set in the forest with views of the sea. Rates start at $180 for the first night and $130 for subsequent nights.

Grenada

Although many people still identify this volcanic Caribbean island with its political turbulence during the 1980s, the face Grenada presents today is one of a friendly, casual, and affordable island destination. The “Spice Island” has something for everyone, including an inviting Afro-Caribbean culture, one of the Caribbean’s prettiest colonial cities (St. George), fragrant spice plantations, dozens of beaches and bays, and a mountainous national park great for hiking.

In the capital of St. George, you can walk along narrow colonial streets lined with a rainbow of pastel-painted houses and shops and watch masted ships sail in and out of the harbor. While in town, browse the spice and food markets and visit the 18th-century French fortification Fort George. If you’re interested in learning more about spices, tour the Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station (Grenada produces a third of the world’s nutmeg supply) for $1.

Active visitors should try hiking in Grand Etang National Park, perhaps climbing to the top of Mt. Qua Qua, for a commanding view of the coast. For beachcombing, your first choice should be Grand Anse Beach, near St. George, a two-mile-long white sugar-white sand beach with protected waters safe for swimming.

Regarded as one of the best affordable hotels on the island, the English-country-house-style La Sagesse Nature Center is set on one of Grenada’s nicest beaches and offers easy access to nature trails. Prices start at $145 a night.

Staniel Cay, Bahamas

There are more than 700 islands in the Bahamas, but the vast majority of travelers never get beyond the mega resorts of New Providence (home to Nassau), Paradise, and Grand Bahama islands. That means there’s plenty of lightly trafficked “Out Islands” to choose from for an alternative beach getaway. For glassy, gem-colored water, condo-free beaches, affordable accommodations, and some the best sailing grounds in the world, head to Staniel Cay, a two-square-mile island within the Exuma Cays.

Most of the action on Staniel Cay centers around the friendly Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where yachters and landlubbers alike stay, dine, and congregate. Here you can rent 13- and 17-foot boats (from $95 per half day) which will allow you to cruise to some of the uninhabited islets nearby, see marine life like nurse sharks, and visit with the famous “swimming pigs” of Big Major Cay, which paddle out to sea in hopes of getting a handout from sailors. You can also rent snorkel gear ($20) to use at Thunderball Grotto, a natural fishbowl featured in the James Bond film “Thunderball.” Diving, kayaking, and bonefishing are other options.

The Yacht Club offers one-, two-, and three-bedroom waterfront cottages and suites from $145 a night, room only. All-inclusive prices that cover three meals per day, airport transfers, and use of a 13-foot boat, snorkel gear, kayaks, and bicycle start at $162 per person per night.

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

While most Americans have never heard of it, Fernando de Noronha is regarded by many Brazilians as having the most beautiful beaches in the country—and that’s saying a lot coming from a nation full of sand and sun connoisseurs. With its steep bunny-ear hills that soar up from undeveloped white and gold beaches, Fernando de Noronha might look more at home alongside Bora Bora and the other islands of French Polynesia than it does hundreds of miles from mainland Brazil. But unlike those Pacific islands, Fernando de Noronha is cheaper and easier to get to, at least from the East Coast.

At only seven square miles, the island is easily explored by dune buggy. Pack some snorkel gear and head to beaches like Baia do Sancho and Baia dos Porcos, where you’ll see sting rays, sea turtles, and a wide variety of colorful fish just feet from the shore. Without a doubt, the water surrounding the island— a national marine park—is Fernando de Noronha’s top attraction. Besides snorkeling, you can experience Brazil’s best scuba diving with Atlantis Divers (from about $75 for two dives) and go boating (about $25) to spot spinner dolphins and see the island’s unusual rock formations up close.

In the evenings, head to Vila dos Remedios, the island’s historic heart, where you’ll dance the night away to traditional Brazilian music and eat seafood al fresco at the popular and cheap Bar do Cachorro. For affordable accommodations, stay at the simple but comfortable Pousada Paraiso do Atlantico, where prices for double rooms start around $78 a night.

Fonte: Smart Travel

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Strange sea creatures: Exhibit shows the first time, fish living in the deepest abysses of the oceans

13 01 2009

Fangtooth – The sharp teeth prevent the closing of the mouth

Rare in the shows, there are giant whale (on top) and fish with antennas to attract their prey

At sea, about ten thousand meters deep below, there are ways of life that are more to ETs than for fish. But they are fish. And most of them emits light. There are transparent squid, giant jellyfish, puppies with about seven meters long. These beings live in extreme conditions in the ocean cliffs, with total absence of light and under tonnes of air pressure in average temperatures of 20 degrees centigrade negative. Last week, a team of german oceanographers of the Museum of Natural History Senckenberg in Frankfurt, worth is one of the most modern submarine in the world to capture some species and bring afloat – those that are considered more rare were shot, designed and faithful assembled in laboratories, as part of a small group that is usually just proliferating even sacrificed. Environmental crime? Evil? No. It is vital show for the first time that human beings in the eyes that had so far only been observed by scientists.

It mounted the exhibition in Frankfurt Tiefsee, offering visitors a virtual tour by the abysmal darkness of the sea, corresponding to nearly 70% of the biosphere of the planet and, paradoxically, one of the least known areas of the globe. The show occupies an area of square meters, divided into two floors, and there are 45 animals and 35 presented models played especially for the event. There aren’t live fish because none of them survives beyond its (to us, inhospitable) habitat. “The bodies can not be brought under the same conditions of high pressure, the sea bed up to an aquarium,” said marine biologist Michael Türkay, director of marine zoology of the Senckenberg Research Institute.

Imagine, for example, a baby of about seven meters long. Well, this is a baby sperm abysses of deep sea – as common a sperm, those who know and who live on the surface of the water, measured in adulthood within three meters long, the baby abysmal, when grows, reaches 18 meters. There are other major attractions in the show: the Atlantic footballfish (Himantolophus albino) has rounded form, elastic body and can swallow other animals that have up to twice its size. Already the Humpback anglerfish  (Melanocetus johnsonii) attracts its prey with false bait, a luminescent boss he swings on the head. The female reaches 18 centimeters, but the male grows up to three centimeters. The Illuminated netdevil (Linophryne arborífera), in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific, have pointed teeth and bodies that shine on the forehead and under the mouth. Another strange creature is Fangtooth (Anoplogaster cornuta), whose teeth descomunais prevent it completely close the mouth – but when the prey bites, poor her. “For a long time the biologists believed that it was impossible to be in great depths marine life,” says Türkay. “Today we know that it exists and we must also be sure that there are other animals ever seen.”

From: Terra